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Commissioners approve Coventry Park site plan


BRADENTON - No one has hit a golf ball at the Woodlands Golf Course since it was sold in 2005, but in a few years people might be living where duffers once took mulligans.

See a map of the proposed site

The Manatee County Commission voted 6-1 Thursday, with Commissioner Joe McClash dissenting, to approve a preliminary site plan for the Coventry Park subdivision at the site of the former golf course. The site, about 106 acres, is owned by Woodlands of Manatee LLC. The owners of the company are Frank Buskirk and Frank Cassata.

Residents living near the site filled the commission's chambers to object to the proposed plan, citing compatibility with subdivisions already in the area and describing traffic problems already in existence on Erie Road, and especially at the intersection of Erie Road and 69th Street East.

James Ford, a resident of Ancient Oaks, said that making left turns from 69th Street East to Erie Road causes problems, and even a proposal to eventually four-land Erie Road wouldn't solve the problem, he said. Wayne Sievert added that the schools in the area are overcrowded and that more residents would increase pressure on the schools and also hurt property values in the area.

From the Parrish Civic Association, Jay King brought a collection of photos of Erie Road with various types of vehicles on it and talked about the shoulders of the road, as well as the dangerous situation he said happens when traffic stacks up in the northbound lane around the curve in the morning.

"We can't base compatibility of roads, safety of roads, on plans that may or may not happen, and use that as a criteria," Tammy Vaughn said.

For David Smiley of the Thousand Oaks community, the issue of incompatibility with the surrounding area was a strong point. "Granted, there's been work done, but still the 63 units are attached units," he said. "There's nothing like that in our area. That's cause for great concern."

In addition, Smiley said, the home values have been dropping in the area and he said he sees signs advertising short sales.

That is also an issue for Kay Townsend, who lives across the street from the proposed development and has been trying to sell her house. She said that she's counted 1,000 cars an hour passing by in a one-hour time period.

"There's several developments that are abandoned, and that hurts our property, plus the sight of these houses is really going to hurt the property," she said. "My house is for sale, and they've made more than one comment about how busy the road is."

Shannon Acreman, representing the Woodlawn Lakes Homeowners Association, offered a presentation of an alternative to the proposed site plan, and said that incompatibility was a big issue for him. He said the development appears to be less dense, but because of the small lots in Coverntry Park, it will actually have the feel of a denser, urbanized style of a development. "And that's where our compatibility issue comes in," he said.

"We live in that area and we moved to that area because it's not that type of living there," Acreman said. "We want a living area where we have the bigger lots, the bigger houses, more open area and a more rural-type style of living. If we wanted to live around this or live in this, we would have moved to a more downtown area."

Caleb Grimes, representing Woodlands of Manatee's owners, said there have been considerable redesigns to the original project, and that they were looking to make a development that was an internalized community. The town houses and other houses in the subdivision were to be marketed to empty nesters, young professionals or retirees who didn't want a big yard to take care of.

"There are people who want the town house type facility, size-wise and configuration, and want that type of community to live in, also would like to have it free-standing," he said. "So what we did we took the town house style, and turned it into detached units."

The development was redesigned to get rid of interneighborhood ties, Grimes said, and it includes larger buffers than required between Coventry Park and the community to the south as well as between the community and Erie Road. In fact, it will be gated and have its own recreation facilities and walking trails.

"One of the challenges was to go through and not touch any of the wetlands," he said. "And we were able to do that."

Virtually every unit backs up onto open space, he said. The development is 71 percent open space, he added. The density is actually less than Thousand Oaks, the subdivision to the south.

In addition, he said, the developers were withdrawing the request for 25 percent affordable housing because there's nothing to gain from it for them.

In the area of transportation, Erie Road is a concern, and Grimes said that even at the worst case and with the new development in place, the road would meet the county's level of service. The project would contribute money to improve the "Erie, Erie, Erie" intersection (Erie Road and its intersections at Erie Lane and Erie Court,) he said, as well as the areas of the turn lanes into the development.

Richard Stiles gave the transportation overview and said the growth on the roads hasn't been what it was in the past, so the analysis is very conservative.

"How are we addressing coordinating efforts so we don't have to tear everything out that this developer's put in for safety improvements? This is what we've seen on 301 in the past. We've asked our staff to look at it," McClash said. "We should take advantage of that coordinated effort and staff needs to come forward and give us an idea of what we need to pitch in to make it a little bit better so we don't have to tear it out in the future."

Aristotle Shinas of Public Works said his department was working with the developer and said the long-range plan is to widen Erie Road to four lanes. An improvement will address concerns over the safety of the Erie Road-69th Street East intersection and will be coming on line at the end of 2010, and other improvements will come on line further down the road around 2010.

"You have a pretty substantial area that is already spearheaded for improvements to be done," he said.

Acreman said that the issue with the road will remain no matter what happens to the development, whether it went in or was changed.

"The road's not going to be the dealbreaker," he said. "I think the road needs to be done simultaneously with the development."

Grimes noted, "We've all recognized that ultimately Erie Road will need upgrading, and we're prepared to do our share of upgrading it," and said he agreed that McClash's ideas on overall improvements are good. "Much of the road improvements are already scheduled and funded, and so those improvements are already going to be there."

Before the vote, Commissioner Donna Hayes pointed out that her mother lived on Erie Road years earlier, before the Thousand Oaks and Ancient Oaks developments had been put up. People complained, she said, that those developments would have a negative effect on the area, but by working through the issues, the developments were built, and Coventry Park would eventually be built, too, and be an asset.

"I think it's a fantastic community," she said.

However, McClash said that the real problem is Erie Road and that more needs to be done to protect the communities surrounding the road before more developments are built there. For that reason, he said, he couldn't support the motion.

Miles Gentry of the county planning department said the plan is compatible with the area, and noted that he had a letter from a school board planner telling him the schools in the area did have sufficient capacity for an expected increase in students.

After the 6-1 vote in favor of the plan, Acreman said he was being positive about the outcome despite losing the vote.

"We did the best we could. We shared our concerns," he said. "I don't agree with their decision, but the positive of the whole thing is that Erie Road is going to get significantly improved. That benefits all of us."

Smiley took issue with the meeting happening at 9 a.m. on the last day of public school, but he was glad about the road at least. "I thought we did well in expressing the problems and the issues. I appreciate the consideration the commissioners gave," he said. "I'm thankful at least for the progress that's been made in terms of the site plan and I'm encouraged. Erie Road's going to be fixed."

Grimes said he was happy at the outcome.

"We're very pleased with the approval and we really believe that the efforts we went to to assure the compatibility will ultimately be proper and effective, and that this will be another neighborhood in a very nice area that will be very successful," he said.


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